Runner Steve Lindsey, 45, has come a long way since his first Ski to Sea race in 1997.
Lindsey drove up to Bellingham with a group of college friends and recalls his team was lucky to cross the finish line before race organizers began cleaning up.
"We did absolutely horrible," he said of his first-career race. "They were closing the beer garden and taking down the banners by the time we finished."
These days Lindsey and his carefully-constructed team are one of the first ones to down a postrace brew.
Following Lindsey's first time navigating Whatcom County's famed annual race, he took a few years off before finding a new team. He's competed in every year since, and after a move to Bellingham six years ago, his Ski to Sea passion has only intensified.
Lindsey runs the eight mile downhill-run leg. His running background derives from his high school cross country days, but his ability to put teams together is arguably as impressive as what he contributes to a race.
He manages two separate teams and looks at past results to help formulate optimal groupings.
"I just enjoy putting the teams together," Lindsey said. "You get a wide variety of athletes. You get a kick out of that. Bellingham is such a tight-knit community that everyone knows everybody. There's so many great athletes that it doesn't take much to spread the word that you are looking for somebody."
Lindsey's team finished second in the recreational open division, taking 25th overall last year. This spring, one of his teams will be competing in the Competitive Class' Veteran Division, and his other will compete in Competitive Mixed.
Lindsey bills Ski to Sea as Whatcom County's biggest holiday, and he loves the pageantry and the festival atmosphere.
"I love it on the Saturday before the race," he said. "You see all the bikes, canoes and kayaks on cars. It's a great thing. Everybody looks forward to it."
And while Lindsey believes his leg is the most painful of the seven, he'll certainly be looking forward to covering the downhill, grinding trek along Mt. Baker Highway while spending another year competing in his favorite race.
"It's hard to find a runner," he said, "and the only way I can stay on the team is running, so I get stuck with the painful leg."
But surely another podium spot, this time in a Competitive Class, would make Lindsey's efforts well worth it.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.